TELFORD VICE, Centurion
WHAT if SA won a test and nobody cared? That’s the likelihood at Centurion on Tuesday, where the home side are seven wickets away from beating England – who need to bat all day or find 330 more runs to win the fourth test.
That’s if the visitors give a damn, considering they have already won the series and zombied about the place on Monday like they have turned their thoughts to the one-day series starting in Bloemfontein next Wednesday.
Things couldn’t be more different on the SA side of the fence. Having gone nine tests without being able to sing their victory song – their longest winless streak in the 227 completed tests they have played since readmission in 1991 – SA will take any victory they can get; even one as illusionary as this threatens to be.
The truth is SA have been well beaten in the series by a team who weren’t better than them, but who performed far better than they did.
SA’s selectors have done them few favours, while key players’ injuries and poor form, as well as uncertain leadership on and off the field, have cost them dearly.
If the home side do pull one back on Tuesday the series scoreline should not read 2-1. Instead, it should be revised to 2-half.
Hashim Amla and Temba Bavuma put SA in their strong position with a stand of 117. Amla, who scored 109 in the first innings, fell four runs short of making a century in both innings for the second time in his career. Bavuma was his tidy, tykish, terrier-like self for his unbeaten 78.
All good. But the last time a SA captain suffered a pair in a test, news of an iceberg making the Titanic an offer it couldn’t refuse probably had yet to reach Papua New Guinea.
Louis Tancred it was, bowled by SF Barnes and stumped off Frank Woolley at the Oval in August 1912 – merely four months after the steel hit the seabed on a frigid night in the Atlantic.
On Monday, SA’s captain was trapped in front second ball by a bananaring inswinger from James Anderson. In the first innings, he had reached out and touched a veering away swinger from Stuart Broad and was taken at second slip, also second ball.
As Nasser Hussain might have asked, “Whatshisname?”
Call him AB duck Villiers.
In fact, in his four innings as captain De Villiers has thrice been sent back to the dressingroom runless tae think again.
And this from a man who did not know the indignity of registering a duck until his 79th test innings – also at Centurion, against Bangladesh of all non-entities, in November 2008.
“I never thought that was possible,” Bavuma said of De Villiers’ unhappy hat-trick. “But he is human; he does make mistakes.”
It is, of course, too early to heap criticism on De Villiers as a skipper and too late to question him as a player: he is in the spring of his captaincy on the golden summer of his playing career.
But, on a day like Monday, when SA took their sweet time to bat England out of the game, oddities like that eased the torpor.
De Villiers declared on 248/5 in the sixth over after tea, setting England 382 to win. By stumps, Alex Hales, Alastair Cook and Nick Compton had been dealt with and just 52 runs were on the board.
“Those were big wickets, and we’ll be coming at them tomorrow with our heads held high and shooting on all cylinders,” Bavuma said.
Fine, but let’s not get too excited.